Turns Me Off: New Nixon Tapes Reveal Sexism Towards Indira Gandhi

Newly declassified tapes reveal Nixon’s bigotry, sexism and racism towards India and its leaders.

Published
India
4 min read
Former Indian PM Indira Gandhi with ex-US President Richard Nixon.
i

A conversation between former US President Richard M Nixon and his then national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, ahead of the 1971 Bangladesh war – revealed by recently declassified tapes published in the New York Times – provide shocking evidence of the duo’s bigotry, sexism and racism towards Indians.

The tapes were accessed by professor and author Gary J Bass.

The ‘Private Break’ During a Meeting With Indira Gandhi

November 1971. After a meeting with then Indian PM Indira Gandhi, Nixon and Kissinger took a private break.

Unedited excerpt from The New York Times:

The president, in between bitter sparring matches with Mrs. Gandhi about the danger of war with Pakistan, suggested to Mr. Kissinger that his own sexual neuroses were having an impact on foreign policy: “They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them.”

A few days later, on Nov. 12, 1971, in the middle of a discussion about India-Pakistan tensions with Mr. Kissinger and Secretary of State William P. Rogers, after Mr. Rogers mentioned reprimanding Mrs. Gandhi, the president blurted, “I don’t know how they reproduce!”

Oval Office Conversations

JUNE 1971, Oval Office

Conversation between Nixon, Kissinger and HR Haldeman, the White House chief of Staff.

Unedited excerpt from The New York Times:

“Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women,” said Mr. Nixon. “Undoubtedly,” he repeated, with a venomous tone.

He continued, “The most sexless, nothing, these people. I mean, people say, what about the Black Africans? Well, you can see something, the vitality there, I mean they have a little animallike charm, but God, those Indians, ack, pathetic. Uch.”

In the same conversation, the former president seemed to have been upset with his Ambassador to India, who, two days earlier, had confronted Nixon and Kissinger in the Oval office and called Pakistan's crackdown "almost entirely a matter of genocide."

Unedited excerpt from The New York Times:

Mr. Nixon now asked what “do the Indians have that takes even a Keating, for Christ, a 70-year-old” — here there is cross-talk, but the word seems to be “bachelor” or “bastard.” In reply, Mr. Kissinger sweepingly explained: “They are superb flatterers, Mr. President. They are masters at flattery. They are masters at subtle flattery. That’s how they survived 600 years. They suck up — their great skill is to suck up to people in key positions.”

Background

Declassified documents have previously revealed that America, who was a staunch ally of Pakistan and against the liberation of Bangladesh, had used the most unparliamentary language for Gandhi. After a meeting. President Nixon had said, "She suckered us. Suckered us... this woman suckered us."

The outrage on a phone conversation with Kissinger was a result of his failure to persuade Gandhi from backing off on making a move in the 1971 Bangladesh war.

Documenting Nixon’s support to Pakistan’s human rights violations in Bangladesh in 1971, Bass, in his book ‘Blood Telegram’, also discussed how Nixon was rattled by the Americans’ sympathies for India. The author quoted Nixon as saying, “I don’t like the Indians.”

According to Bass, "The Americans who most liked India tended to be the ones that Nixon could not stand. India was widely seen as a State Department favourite, irritating the president."

Bass had noted that beyond his prejudices, Nixon’s dislike for India also stemmed from the latter’s closeness to Soviets.

"The most basic was the Cold War: presidents of the US since Harry Truman had been frustrated by India's policy of nonalignment, which Nixon, much like his predecessors, viewed as Nehruvian posturing. India was on suspiciously good terms with the Soviet,”the book says.

Kissinger’s U-Turn on India

Kissinger’s dislike towards India is also documented by Bass in his book. Another set of tapes had revealed Kissinger calling Indians “the most aggressive people around” and insulting Gandhi by calling her a “b**ch.”

Years later, in 2005, Kissinger had apologised for his remarks. He told NDTV: "(The foul language has) to be seen in the context of a Cold War atmosphere 35 years ago, when I had paid a secret visit to China when President Nixon had not yet been there and India had made a kind of an alliance with the Soviet Union.”

Kissinger, who later went onto win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, has had only good things to say about Gandhi and India in the later years of his life.

In the second edition of his book ‘White House Years’, Kissinger said that although he shared the views of President Nixon about Gandhi, he did not personally feel offended by her “strong personality.”

He wrote: “Mrs Gandhi was a strong personality relentlessly pursuing India's national interest with single-mindedness and finesse. I respected her strength even when her policies were hurtful to our national interest."

However, in 2019, when PM Narendra Modi posted a photograph with Kissinger, a major controversy erupted, with many left puzzled as to why a prime minister who pegs his victory on nationalism would post a picture with a former ‘India-hating’ US diplomat.

Why Nixon Supported Pakistan During 1971 War?

'Blood Telegram’ had documented how Nixon and his adviser Kissinger continued to support the violent crackdown on Bengalis in erstwhile East Pakistan by a junta government in Pakistan, under General Yahya Khan.

An estimated 10 million refugees fled East Pakistan into India. A study in 2008 had found that as many as 269,000 people had died during the war, leading to the liberation of 1971, when India won against Pakistan.

Nixon had a reason to support the atrocities by Pakistan, a US ally, in the Bangladesh war. As told by Kissinger to The Atlantic in 2018, the US -China talks were on the verge of a breakthrough.

Kissinger said, "These exchanges were conducted through Pakistan, which emerged as the interlocutor most acceptable to Beijing and Washington.”

“To condemn these violations publicly would have destroyed the Pakistani channel, which would be needed for months to complete the opening to China, which indeed was launched from Pakistan,” he had said.

‘Emotions Can’t Run Foreign Policy’: Twitter on Nixon-Kissinger Racism Tapes

Twitter reacted sharply to the New York Times op ed, with many saying it betrayed Nixon’s racism and sullies Kissinger’s reputation.

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